By David Yager
Those convinced that the climate change movement has quasi-religious underpinnings had their views confirmed by the Pope in a pre-Easter interview. An Associated Press wire story carried the headline, “Pope Francis says coronavirus could be ‘nature’s response’ to climate change.”
As people struggle to cope emotionally, medically and financially with the greatest government-mandated economic and social shutdown in world history, never lose sight of the real problem. You.
While not making a direct scientific linkage, the article started, “Pope Francis likened the pandemic to recent fires and floods as one of ‘nature’s responses’ to the world’s ambivalence to climate change.” He stated, “I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption and learn to understand and contemplate the natural world. We need to reconnect with our real surroundings. This is the opportunity for conversion.”
It’s your fault.
There has always been a moral element to the anti-oil/climate change movement. We deserve horrible and dangerous weather because we’ve disrupted the natural order of things. It has moral and religious overtones because so many of the prescribed solutions are devoid of facts, science, engineering or economics.
While researching my 2019 book From Miracle to Menace – Alberta, A Carbon Story, a big question I had to answer for myself was how did climate change eclipse every other problem in the world in the minds of so many? What happened to war, poverty, malnutrition, fascism, health care, clean drinking water, sanitation, medicine and human rights?
The answer lay not in the oil industry or the environmental movement but in history, technology, human nature and politics.
That mankind will ultimately destroy itself dates back to Malthus in the late 1700s when he concluded that the population was growing faster than the food supply. In 1962 the book Silent Spring detailed the threat to all of us from the proliferation of deadly man-made chemicals. Goodbye DDT, hello malaria. The Population Bomb in 1968 predicted overpopulation would wreck everything. That was about 4 billion people ago. 1972’s Limits to Growth (Club of Rome) figured we’d soon run out of oil and all other natural resources. Oops. Ask OPEC.
The most significant contribution was Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the 2006 global warming movie that won an Oscar and Nobel Peace Prize. This was shown in classrooms all over the world. Those in grade one in 2007 are voters today.
The environment officially became a global issue in 1972 when the United Nations got involved. Questioning its purpose in the absence of global wars, the UN grabbed the environment as a core mission at conference in Stockholm. After the global warming problem emerged in the late 1980s, the UN began promoting solutions at the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio Di Janeiro. This was followed by Kyoto 1997, Paris 2015 and another couple of dozen serious and well attended international gatherings.
You know the rest. We’re cooked, literally and figuratively. And fossil fuels are the cause.
Digital technology was the next key ingredient: the internet. Prior thereto the conventional media was dominated by professional news organizations, trained reporters, researchers and fact checkers. This century it was completely eviscerated and replaced by the “information superhighway” where anybody could write anything about anything. Today, the digital airways are riddled with “fake news” as people write and post without barriers, filters, fact-checkers, or repercussions.
Everybody has a computer in their pocket. Major information providers that never existed like Facebook and Google use sophisticated algorithms to find out what you like to think, hear, read and purchase and feed you more of it continuously.
A fascinating book titled The Square and the Tower (2018) covered the history of networks and how they influenced politics and society. Facebook was described as the mother of all networks, the most significant change in information dissemination since Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century. Today Facebook has 1.7 billion users. The book covers executives from Google bragging about how a handful of political activists armed with smart phones and the internet could organize a huge crowd in countries like Egypt and overthrow the government.
To try to understand how people could fear, even despise, the very energy sources that made them so healthy and wealthy, I turned to books on human nature. These included The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001), Factfulness (2018) Enlightenment Now (2018) and The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (2014). None of the authors suggested climate change was not a problem, and each acknowledged oil’s benefits were real and significant. Petroleum wasn’t all bad.
The most helpful book was The Progress Paradox – How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse (2003). Its conclusion was that western society had progressed to the point that where material needs – education, food, clothing, shelter, health care, retirement – were largely satisfied, permitting more people to focus on spiritual needs. How do I feel? I am not happy so do something about it. Think Greta.
Finally, politics has changed dramatically. This century all political parties began exploiting social media tools like Facebook and unregulated media and on-line communications to better identify voters, figure out what they wanted, spread the word, then give it to them if elected. Sophisticated software tools were developed to find loyal supporters and help get them to the polls on election day.
Digging deeper, I discovered a wonderful nugget called The Public Choice Theory which earned economist James Buchanan a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1986. Knowing that a fundamental driver of economics is self-interest, Buchanan wanted to know why so many voters believed that when ordinary people are elected to public office, they miraculously become altruistic and focus more on the greater good than themselves.
They don’t. The primary purpose of politicians is to attain and retain elected office. If they can do some good along the way, that’s great. Deficits exist because politicians get to attract voters using other peoples’ money. Policies that reward small blocks of voters at the expense of everyone else become law because of self-interest. It is so ingrained that people expect it. That’s why trust in politicians continues to fall along with voter turnout.
I finally understood climate change. People are easy to scare, probably a subliminal survival mechanism. More people were so prosperous they no longer needed to understand how wealth was created or where the next meal was coming from. The professionally skeptical, fact-driven media had been replaced by the mass dissemination of anything and everything so long as it came from what appeared to be a credible source. Political parties became public opinion pollsters.
And of course, hating oil companies was fashionable long before climate change and the internet came along. That was easy.
On how the internet and modern media affected the oil industry I wrote, “There has been significant criticism of carbon industry executives for allowing the misinformation to go this far; that the fossil fuel sector has done a poor job of spreading its message and the essential nature of its products. But if the internet and smart phones can help organized opponents overthrow a government, a pipeline is, by comparison, helpless.”
As for politics, after carbon dioxide was declared a pollutant in the US in 2007 I concluded, “This created unlimited opportunities for the government to protect the environment by reducing CO2, or at least be seen as reducing CO2…As public concerns grew, so did the political solutions…going green was surely the greatest expansion in the role of government in history, with the possible exception of the implementation of public health care.”
Protection from global warming/climate change was what the voters wanted, and the politicians delivered. Whether it worked or not was secondary to a highly visible commitment. Like soma, the pacifying wonder drug in the 1931 novel Brave New World.
This explains the outcome of recent elections and pipeline obstruction. The idea that the mission of climate salvation is of greater importance than the economic damage inflicted directly and indirectly on millions of Canadians certainly has religious overtones. The vilification of the oil industry and how easily it can be replaced has not been fact-based or rational for most of this century.
Because of partisan politics, there is a significant divergence between what the public wants and what governments deliver. Recent public opinion polling by Abacus Research revealed there is broad “support for government assistance to oil/gas sector”; 82% nationally. Only 18% either oppose or strongly oppose. Regionally, opposition runs highest in Quebec at 30%, followed by BC at 20%.
Among political parties the figures are different. For those who were Green Party supporters in the 2019 election, 36% are either opposed or strongly opposed. For the Bloc Quebecois the figure rises to 42%. Conservative and Liberals opposition is only 11% and 17% respectively, while only 22% of NDP supporters don’t think the oil and gas industry should be assisted.
Media reports reveal that within the Liberal caucus, many MPs are loath to alienate their friends, peers and voters by providing the billions in financial support the oilpatch needs to get through this mess, funding available to every other business and industry in the country.
Former Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, a shameless promoter of renewables during her first four years in office, recently tweeted, “After we get through #Covid_19, the world will have a choice. Respond with an economic & jobs recovery stimulus that jumps starts the clean economy & creates meaningful jobs… or not.”
This was written while every essential element of personal protection equipment and life sustaining equipment – from hand sanitizer to gloves to masks to respirators – is made from petroleum. Even militant political plastic haters are returning to plastic grocery bags because they are safer.
As for McKenna, is there nothing “meaningful” about keeping the economy of the world moving and its demand for medical supplies fulfilled? Have that many Canadians really lost their minds?
That the public feels one way and the government in power does something else is not uncommon. Because once elected, the governing party will focus on delivering policies for the tribe that put them in power, not what is best for the country. With so many parties on the ballot, forming a majority government with 40% or less of popular vote is not uncommon.
Polling last election revealed that 29% of voters felt climate change was a major issue. Among Liberal, Greens and NDP supporters this would be much higher. Certainly enough to tailor policy accordingly once in office. Because that’s all that matters.
There are two divergent elements of climate change. One is the problem. The other is the solution.
Protecting the environment has always been and remains a good idea. Everyone agrees that putting less of anything in the atmosphere is desirable. Major steps are being made every day to reduce GHG emissions.
But what to do about it remains a huge issue. One major solution that only works in the minds of climate disaster disciples and vote-seeking politicians is the oft-repeated idea that renewable energy like wind and solar energy can replace oil and natural gas. All it requires is enlightened politicians and political will.
There is no factual, scientific, engineering or economic evidence that this will actually work. Why it lives on has been explained. But it will be interesting to see how successful the anti-oil movement will be in driving the political agenda once the broke governments of the world and 7.5 billion freshly impoverished citizens emerge from the current mess with an entirely new list of priorities.
They are unlikely to do what the Pope has recommended.
From 2000 to 2018 the International Energy Agency reports the world had invested about US$4.1 trillion in renewable energy. Despite the repeated urgency and massive capital commitment, renewables have not resulted in any total decline in fossil fuel consumption. Economic and population growth have caused demand for oil, gas and coal to grow steadily despite everything we’ve been told about how this must stop.
The basket of so-called “renewables” includes wind, solar, hydro, tidal, geothermal and biomass. They are called “renewable” because allegedly they never run out. The wind blows, the sun shines, the water flows, subterranean earth stays warm and plants grow back.
Of the six, the only two that are stable are hydroelectricity and geothermal. The rest are intermittent or vary. The wind stops regularly. The sun disappears daily, is obscured by clouds or its angle is affected by the rotation of the earth around the sun. Tides reverse every six hours. Once harvested, plants for biomass can take a long time to return.
Not one of these six energy sources are a practical substitute for fossil fuels for heavy transportation, petrochemicals or lubricants. Only hydro is suitable for large scale continuous electricity generation, but this is geographically regional. During the deep cold snap last winter those provinces without nuclear or hydroelectricity were nearly 100% dependent upon fossil fuels for electricity and transportation fuel (See Repeat After Me: Canada is Uninhabitable Without Fossil Fuels – David Yager).
Further, the economics of non-carbon energy improve as oil rises and decline when they fall. Nuclear power became increasingly economic in the 1970s thanks to OPEC. Although the price of generation at the source is coming down, wind and solar are subsidized in Alberta by the line charges everyone pays no matter how much electricity they use. Key ingredients for battery storage like lithium and cobalt are not renewable. Electric vehicles sell best when accompanied by cash subsidies.
Over the past 20 years governments have learned that they ignore public concerns over climate change at their peril. Too many votes in play. Fossil fuel producers and investment managers have learned the hard way that it is easier to play ball and have adopted the mantra of ESG and highly publicized carbon reduction initiatives. “Net zero by 2050” has become the mantra, even though nobody has any idea how it will be achieved.
But the COVID-19 phenomenon and global response has changed everything. People that once agonized about the state of the world for their children in 2050 are now focused on feeding them tomorrow and returning them to the classroom. Those who formerly worried about insulation for their homes or solar panels on the roof are now concerned about their mortgage payments and property value. Capital markets that increasingly used political correctness to guide their investment decisions now have trillions of dollars of vaporized investor wealth to recover.
Current figures indicate the federal deficit this year is headed for $180 billion, Alberta’s $20 billion. Possessed with survival fever with or without the virus, nobody cares. One million Canadians lost their jobs last month, hopefully temporarily. One-third fear bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, the climate alarmist disciples – all gainfully employed – soldier on with their disingenuous, fear-fueled dogma that took a quarter century to perfect and promulgate. The one that gained support thanks to a strong and growing economy and a generation of believers who have never experienced tough times.
That’s gone now. And thankfully the blind political support for the anti-oil movement will go with it.
David Yager is a Calgary oil service executive, energy policy analyst, writer and author. He is currently President and CEO of Winterhawk Well Abandonment Ltd. His 2019 book From Miracle to Menace- Alberta, A Carbon Story is available at www.miracletomenace.ca.